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“I have never experienced a group of people as committed and as helpful to other people as the ELAHP people.”
Berhane is a survivor. The sixty-nine year old refugee from Eritrea not only survived torture in Africa, he recently survived major surgery for esophageal cancer. He came to the United States in 2006 on a visa that took him fourteen years to obtain. But the years prior were difficult and uncertain.
As a young man, he worked with a charitable organization on an American military base in Eritrea, helping orphaned children be adopted into American families. That came to an end with the civil war there in 1975. After being imprisoned and tortured because of his association with the U.S., he escaped and fled Eritrea, living for decades without a country. He was a refugee in Sudan when the chance to immigrate to the U.S. arose. Fourteen years earlier he had applied for a visa. It finally came through. His only hesitation was that visas for his adult son and his son’s family did not come. But his son insisted he take the opportunity and go. Berhane promised to do everything he could to make sure his son and his son’s family would someday follow.
For the first few weeks after arriving here, he stayed with friends, but because of the high cost of housing, he was unable to find a place he could afford. With nowhere else to go, he ended up living in shelters. It wasn’t easy, but nothing in his life ever had been. He spoke almost no English, and no one at the shelter spoke the languages he spoke. While he was at the Pine Street Inn, a nurse there took an interest in his story and referred him to ELAHP. After an interview, Berhane was given the last available bed in the twenty bed ELAHP transitional unit for homeless elders.
Once Berhane moved to the ELAHP program, he was more comfortable, but he says things really started to improve for him when he met his caseworker, Kip. Berhane and Kip both spoke some Italian, and he was able to communicate with someone for the first time. Kip helped him find a place to live and apply for benefits. A few months later, Berhane was able to move into his own apartment in the South End.
Berhane says of Kip, “He was there every time I needed him. He was even there when I didn’t need him. He was there before and after my surgery. He asked ‘what do you need?’ and he got it.” When Berhane was going through his surgery for esophageal cancer, Kip helped him obtain a visa for his son who was living in the Sudan. Berhane's son moved to Boston, and supported Berhane during his cancer treatment.
Berhane attributes his strength to his belief in God. He says, “First, with the help of God, I am better. Second, with the help of Kip, I am better because of his friendship. I have never experienced a group of people as committed and as helpful to other people as the ELAHP people.”
Berhane and Kip continue to work on visas for his son’s family. Berhane is hopeful that in March of next year, his eight grandchildren will also be able to come to live with their family in Boston. He is proud of the work he did in Eritrea, helping orphans. He likes to give back to the community, and hopes that by sharing his story he can give back to the Elders Living at Home Program (ELAHP).